COLUMBIA — Nothing could wipe the smile off Steve Spurrier’s face Saturday afternoon following South Carolina’s 17-12 win over Florida.
Not a South Carolina offense that completed just seven passes for 84 yards.
Not a Gamecocks team that was just three of 14 on third-down conversions.
Not even Georgia beating Auburn to earn a likely berth in the Southeastern Conference title game.
Spurrier was in a “happy mood” because South Carolina had completed its best SEC season since joining the conference in 1992. At 6-2, the Gamecocks swept all five of their SEC Eastern Division opponents.
“This was a special one, I don’t mind telling you,” Spurrier said after knocking off his alma mater. “I told the team when I took this job seven years ago some of my buddies in Florida said, ‘Steve, you’re crazy. You’ll get your butt beat like every South Carolina coach has. You can’t beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. Why do you want to get into that?’”
Spurrier explained that he thought the Palmetto State was full of good athletes and that recruiting was the key. Spurrier and his staff have landed plenty of high-profile recruits since coming to South Carolina, and the results are paying off.
“It’s special to know we’re 6-0 the last two years against Tennessee, Georgia and Florida,” Spurrier said.
Tailback Brandon Wilds, who rushed for 120 yards, said Spurrier “teared up a little” in the locker room following the game.
“It was a good feeling for us to see coach happy in the locker room,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said. “His friends told him he would never win at South Carolina, and he proved them wrong.”
South Carolina’s best year in the SEC probably won’t be good enough to get it to Atlanta for the conference championship game. All Georgia needs is a win against Kentucky on Saturday to earn the berth.
But that didn’t discourage Spurrier, who had to settle on winning Saturday with a tough defense and a productive ground game that featured Wilds and quarterback Connor Shaw.
“It was just a good win for us. We’re happy to be 8-2,” Spurrier said. “Whatever happens with Georgia and Auburn, we’ll see how Georgia plays when they know they have to win. They have to win two.”
South Carolina (8-2) can still match or break the record for most wins in school history (10), but its offense will need to improve. Against the Gators (5-5, 3-5 SEC), the Gamecocks struggled to put up points.
South Carolina fell behind 3-0 on Caleb Sturgis’ 21-yard field goal late in the first quarter. It was the 10th consecutive game this year, and 13th in a row dating back to the 2010 Clemson game, that the Gamecocks fell behind their opponent.
The Gamecocks answered with a pair of Connor Shaw touchdown runs in the second quarter. The first came from 10 yards out on a scramble in which Shaw dove for the corner and touched the pylon.
Then, after Rodney Paulk recovered a Florida fumble at the Gators’ 46, Shaw and Brandon Wilds alternated runs. Shaw went in for the score from the 1 with 31 seconds left in the half.
The second half was a defensive struggle. Florida scored its only touchdown early in the fourth quarter on Jacoby Brissett’s 2-yard run. That pulled the Gators to 14-12, but Brissett’s 2-point conversion attempt was intercepted by Marty Markett.
The Gamecocks followed that with a scoring drive of their own. Shaw found Ace Sanders for a 46-yard gain, and that set up Jay Wooten’s 28-yard field goal.
From there, South Carolina’s defense took over. The Gators couldn’t pick up much on their last two possessions, and the game ended with Florida quarterback John Brantley being sacked on his own 34 by Travian Robertson.
“We didn’t lose our poise. We didn’t play particularly well early in the game,” assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said. “A lot of mistakes we had to clean up when they got off the field, but we didn’t lose composure like I thought we did last week (in the loss to Arkansas) when we started making mental errors.”